Judge slamming down a gavel

During the COVID-19 crisis, some churches have faced constitutional religious liberty violations from state and local officials. Alliance Defending Freedom has intervened legally in several cases to help officials understand what is allowed. ADF has won victories that freed churches to continue ministry to the fullest extent under proper restrictions.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BNM) - During the COVID-19 pandemic, churches are helping their communities. Many of them deliver meals to vulnerable individuals. Other churches make face masks. Nearly each one of them is trying out new ministry methods: livestreaming, teleconferencing, video conferencing and holding drive-in church services.

But, as churches adapt and serve, some government officials are targeting them and treating them less favorably than local businesses. As a result, Alliance Defending Freedom has intervened on behalf of several churches.

Temple Baptist Church, Greenville, Mississippi, had to defend its right to host a drive-in service. In response to an ADF lawsuit, the City of Greenville lifted its unconstitutional ban. The church can now continue its drive-in services without fear of government intrusion or punishment.

Calvary Baptist Church, Junction City, Kansas, and First Baptist Church, Dodge City, are two small, rural churches. They both continued in-person services because their attendees faced challenges accessing livestream services. The churches’ area had very few COVID-19 cases. Even so, the church implemented strict social distancing measures, stopped using bulletins and offering plates, provided hand sanitizer and took other protective measures.

But, the state’s governor discriminated against those small churches by limiting the number of people who could participate in religious services - even though they had implemented social distancing and other precautions. The same restrictions did not apply to retail establishments and office buildings.

Because of that discrimination, ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of the two churches. A court granted temporary protections for them while the lawsuit continued. As a result, on April 30, the governor announced a new executive order that did not specifically target churches and other religious activities for disfavored treatment.

In Wake County, North Carolina, officials allowed restaurants to remain open but banned churches from in-person tithes and distributing communion. After being contacted by many churches in the area, ADF attorneys sent a letter to Wake County. The letter pointed out the unequal treatment of churches. If restaurants can hand out food and exchange money, churches should be allowed to provide prepackaged communion at drive-in services and accept tithes. Following the letter, the county announced that churches could provide prepackaged communion elements and receive tithes.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the city prohibited drive-in church services but allowed drive-in restaurants and retailers to remain open - an issue similar to the case in Greenville, Mississippi. ADF attorneys sent a letter explaining that the city’s order was unconstitutional. When officials ignored the letter, ADF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, Chattanooga. City officials resolved the issue by reversing the order.

ADF will continue to advocate for churches’ rights to receive equal treatment.

To help meet churches’ religious liberty legal needs, ADF created an affordable legal membership program: ADF Church Alliance. The program acts as a hub for churches to gain access to experienced First Amendment attorneys. Attorneys can answer religious liberty questions, conduct document reviews, provide advice and represent your church in court, if necessary and appropriate. An ADF Alliance membership addresses most religious freedom issues.

The Baptist Convention of New Mexico has a partnership with ADF and the ADF Church Alliance. The partnership allows churches to receive a discount on alliance memberships.

Daniel Porter is a staff writer with the Baptist New Mexican news journal and GoBNM.com, news and information outlets for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

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